Tag: World Golf Hall of Fame

The Greatest of All-Time: Tiger and Jack

Watching Tiger walk the fairway at the final hole on the Old Course at St. Andrews, where he received a rousing tribute at a place where golf history has been made for centuries, brought back images of Nicklaus when he made his last appearance at The Open in 2005.

While the 2022 Open may not be the last for Tiger, it seems an appropriate moment to look at the greatest two players in the history of golf side by side—and the similarity is striking.

Tiger’s eventual induction to the World Golf Hall of Fame was inevitable from the moment he burst onto the golf scene, as he surpassed Jack with three U.S. Amateur titles (1994-1996), while Jack won only two, losing in the quarter-finals in 1959. Under the carefully scripted guidance of Earl Woods, the father whom he deeply loved and admired, Tiger’s arrival on Tour had been long anticipated (most everyone has seen the famous clip of Tiger, at two years old, putting against Bob Hope on the Mike Douglas Show).

For Tiger though, it was always about Jack. Unlike every other sport, in golf there was never a debate about the best everhands down it was Nicklaus. And since Tiger’s goal from when he first picked up a club was to be the greatest ever to play the game, then Jack was the man to beat.

As a boy, Tiger had a list of Nicklaus’ amateur accomplishments hanging on his wall, with Jack’s age when each was achieved. Nicklaus was 17 years old when he first stepped onto the stage at the 1957 U.S. Open, and Tiger made his debut at 16 (the 1992 Nissan Open)—becoming the youngest ever to compete in a PGA Tour event. Expectations were sky high for Tiger as an enormous gallery gathered to follow him, and he also got a glimpse of the future, as the media hounded him relentlessly while exiting the eighteenth green when he completed his first round.

Tiger wins first U.S. Amateur

Amateur Careers

Pushing himself to stay ahead of Jack, however, would be no easy task. In ’93, when Tiger was 17, he entered three PGA Tour events, but missed the cut in each by a wide margin. At 18 he entered three more PGA tournaments, once again missing the cut in each. Jack, at 18, played two events—the U.S. Open (missing the cut), and the Rubber City Classic, where he made the cut and finished in a tie for 15th. Tiger needed to kick it up a notch.

In 1995 at age 19 he did just that—making his first ever cut at a PGA sanctioned event, and ironically it was The Masters, where his star shines the brightest. Jack, at 19, played seven Tour events, including the Masters and U.S. Open, missing the cut in both, but making the cut in all five regular Tour events, including a T12 at the Buick Invitational. But for Tiger and Jack, it’s always all about the majors, so Tiger had nudged ahead.

In ’96, at 20 years old and still an amateur, Tiger entered three tournaments–The Masters, U.S. Open and The Open Championship. He missed the cut at The Masters, but made the cut at the U.S. Open, and tied for 22nd at The Open Championship. In 1960, when Nicklaus was 20 and still an amateur, he also entered three tournaments–the Masters (tied for thirteenth), the U.S. Open (where he famously finished second to Arnie at Cherry Hills), and the Buick Open (making the cut). Again, Tiger would need to elevate his game to stay ahead of Jack, and once again he did exactly that—but with a different approach.

Nicklaus retained his amateur status through his 21st birthday in 1961, recording a T7 at The Masters and a T4 at the U.S. Open, while entering five regular tour events—and making the cut in each (including a T6 at the Milwaukee Open.)

Tiger, on the other hand, decided to turn pro at 20 following the ’96 Open Championship, and immediately dominated the Tour. He made the cut in all eight tournaments he entered, including 2 wins (The Vegas Invitational and The Oldsmobile Classic), a T3 at The Texas Open, T5 at The Quad Cities, and finished up with a trip to The Tour Championship.

For Tiger, his early challenges against seasoned tour pros served only to deepen his resolve, intensify his focus, and set the stage for an assault on the record book that Nicklaus had rewritten. And while Tiger and Jack have much in common, including tremendous power, uncanny putting, and the ability to hit towering long irons and destroy Par 5’s, what sets them apart from all others is a monumental will to win. Who can forget Tiger’s putt on eighteen at Torrey Pines in the 2008 U.S. Open, where he fought through seventy-two holes with a fractured leg and torn ligaments in his knee to defeat Rocco Mediate. Or the putt Nicklaus holed on seventeen at The Masters in 1986, when he fired a back nine 30 on Sunday to win his final major at forty-six years old.

The Chase

Both Tiger and Jack won their first major championship at 22 years old (the ’62 U.S. Open for Jack and the ’97 Masters for Tiger). While in his twenties, Tiger won eight Major’s, including four in a row (the famous “Tiger Slam”) beginning with the 2000 U.S. Open through the 2001 Masters, putting him ahead of Jack’s pace (Nicklaus won seven majors in his twenties).

Curiously, both Jack and Tiger went into a lull at exactly the same time, as neither recorded a major win at 28 and 29 years of age. But Tiger came out of it faster, with four major wins between ‘05 and ’06, giving him a total of 12 major championships at 31 years old, while increasing his margin to 3 over Jack, who had 9 majors at 31.

Tiger added 2 more majors in ‘07 and ‘08, giving him 14 major championship wins at 33 years old as he headed into the 2009 season. Jack had picked up 3 majors between ’72 and ’73, giving him a total of 12 at age 33— so Tiger held a comfortable lead as he prepared to make his final assault on Jack’s record.

Tiger Struggles

The Struggle

Following his incredible win at the 2008 U.S. Open, Tiger underwent surgery to repair the ruptured tendons in his knee, and missed the rest of the season. But with intensive rehab, he was back for the ’09 season and looking like the Tiger of old. He recorded six wins including top 10’s at the Masters and U.S. Open, and a runner up at the PGA Championship. As the season came to a close it seemed certain that he would break Nicklaus’ record for major championship victories.

The runner-up finish at the ’09 PGA, however, would prove to be a turning point, the beginning of what became a long and difficult struggle for Tiger. He went into Sunday as the leader by two shots over Y.E. Yang and Padraig Harrington, having never yielded the lead at a major going to the final round. On this day, however, the clutch putts that had always been Tiger’s trademark failed to fall, and Yang charged past him to take the championship. The veil of invincibility had been lifted.

Within months his world was rocked again by reports of marital infidelity, his pristine image pummeled by the media as past transgressions came flooding out. Shortly thereafter his wife filed for divorce, and sponsors began to abandon him. While Tiger had been able to overcome physical injury, and even the loss of his dad in 2006, the steely mental toughness that defined him had taken a major blow, and he failed to record a single win in 2010 and 2011.

Mounts his Comeback

The Come Back

As the 2012 season got under way Tiger picked himself up, and at 37 years old he was determined to continue his pursuit of Jack. With seventy-one tour wins, he was only two behind Nicklaus, and even though he hadn’t won a major since 2008, he was still on pace to challenge Jack’s record for major championship wins (Jack also had fourteen majors at 37). Tiger recorded three wins in 2012 to pass Nicklaus in regular Tour titles, and added five more in 2013 to put some distance between them. Unfortunately, though, he was unable to take any of the majors (his best finishes were a T3 at the Open Championship in 2012, and a T4 at the Masters in 2013), so for the first time, at 39 years old, Tiger was behind Jack’s pace in his quest for the major championship record (Jack had recorded 15 major wins at age 39).

Tiger Fights Through Injury

The Pain

And then Tiger’s back blew up. It started toward the end of the 2013 season when he was hit with severe back spasms at The Barclays, just as the FedEx Cup playoffs were getting under way. Somehow, he was able to finish second, and make it through the final weeks of the season to the Tour Championship, but the writing was on the wall. Even after a few months of rest and rehab, the pain was only getting worse. Tiger tried to push through it as the 2014 season got underway, but was forced to withdraw from the Honda in early March and underwent his first back surgery shortly thereafter, announcing that he would miss the Masters (and he would miss the U.S. Open as well).

Determined to compete at the remaining majors, Tiger came back for the Open Championship and the PGA, but it was clear that the surgery had been unsuccessful, and even his indomitable will just wasn’t enough. Finishing well back at The Open, and then missing the cut at the PGA Championship, Tiger shut it down for the remainder of the season, opting for rest and rehab once again—but the pain would not subside.

In 2015 he tried to fight his way through once again, but was only able to tee it up 11 times, with his best finish a T17 at the Masters, while missing the cut at the other three majors. And so, at age 40, Tiger found himself 3 behind Nicklaus’ pace for the record in major championship wins (Jack recorded his seventeenth at 40).

Tiger made a decision to have a second back surgery in September, followed by another procedure barely a month later, and the 2016 season was completely lost. When he tried to return in 2017, his back broke down again, leaving him only one alternative for resuming his pursuit—a fourth surgery, this time spinal fusion, and the loss of yet another full season.

Tiger Wins Fifteenth Major Championship

The Resurrection

Most people would have given up at that point, but Tiger is not most people. After the surgery he dedicated himself to an even more rigorous rehab, and returned for the 2018 season ready to go. In 18 events he finished in the top ten 7 times, including a T6 at the Open Championship and a runner-up at the PGA, and then capped off the season with a win at the Tour Championship. But he had failed to move closer in his goal of reaching Jack’s record for major championship wins.

And then Tiger won The Masters in 2019, his 15th major title (and 5th Green Jacket), so at 44 he had suddenly moved back to within two of Nicklaus’ pace (Jack had recorded 17 major wins at 44, with his 18th and final major championship coming at age 46).

As the 2020 season got going Tiger came out strong with a T9 at The Farmers, held each year at Torrey Pines where he had won the 2008 U.S. Open. It looked like Tiger would make his presence felt in a big way at the 2020 major championships when suddenly the pandemic hit, putting the Tour season (and Tiger’s pursuit) on hold. By the time the world began opening up again, only two major championships could be held—The PGA, where Tiger recorded a T37, and the U.S. Open (that had been moved to September), where Tiger missed the cut.

The Challenge
Sports Illustrated (https://www.si.com/)

The Challenge

As everyone knows, Tiger was involved in a horrendous automobile accident in February 2021, suffering massive leg injuries from which he is making a slow but steady recovery. At 46, it may appear that Tiger’s chase to match or surpass Jack’s major championship record is over.

Counting Tiger out, however, is never a good idea. You can be sure he has no intention of walking into the sunset just yet, and he’ll be back giving it everything he has. As the saying goes, “if there is a will, there is a way,” and Tiger has proven again and again that there is no one with a greater will to win.

Tiger and Jack

The Recap

With 82 PGA Tour victories, Tiger has surpassed Jack at seventy-three, and matched the record held by Sam Snead. And his 15 major championship wins are second only to Jack’s 18. Regardless of whether Tiger comes back to win another major or breaks Sam Snead’s record for Tour wins, the sports world now has a fierce debate as to the greatest golfer of all time.

Tiger holds 3 U.S. Amateur Championships to Jack’s 2, while Jack holds 18 Major Championships to Tiger’s 15, but Tiger won 82 tour events to Jack’s 73. Some may point to Jack’s overall record at the majors (Nicklaus finished in the top five 56 times, while Tiger recorded 33 Top-5 finishes), and others may say that Tiger faced much deeper fields throughout his career than did Jack.

Much of Tiger’s prime was lost to injury as well, and there is little doubt that he would have matched or surpassed Jack’s major championship win total had he remained healthy. Illness and injury have impacted the careers of great athletes throughout history, however. Lou Gehrig recorded 2,721 hits and had 493 home runs when he was diagnosed with ALS on his 36th birthday. And Bo Jackson, who likely would have been recognized as the greatest athlete in the history of sport, suffered a career ending injury at age 29 (he was selected for both the MLB All-Star team and NFL Pro Bowl—the only athlete ever to accomplish that feat).

Tiger has created a legacy of greatness that is simply remarkable, and while he may fall just short of his ultimate goal all those years ago, he has allowed us to witness golf history in the making— and don’t be surprised if he doesn’t find a way to keep Jack in his sights.

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LPGA Tour: The Founders Cup

Upper Montclair Country Club, Clifton NJ

The Ladies are coming to town! The Palos Verdes Championship is in the rearview mirror as Marina Alex took home the trophy with a one-shot victory over World Number 1 ranked Jin Young Ko. The LPGA Tour now heads east, returning to northern New Jersey for the 2022 Cognizant Founders Cup which will be held at Upper Montclair Country Club in Clifton, from Thursday, May 12 through Sunday May 15.

Jin Young, the current two-time Founders Cup Champion, will be going for three in a row after running away from the field in 2021 with a first round 63 at Mountain Ridge Country Club. She will also arrive with an impressive list of newly minted LPGA Tour records, displaying a level of dominance not seen since Annika Sorenstam reigned supreme. Included among them are most consecutive holes without a bogie (114-eclipsing even Tiger’s PGA Tour record of 110), consecutive rounds under par (34), and consecutive rounds in the 60’s (16). Her record for consecutive rounds in the 60’s is even more amazing when you consider that she had previously tied the mark of 14 before starting her new record-breaking streak.

Jin Young Ko

The Field

In addition to defending champion Jin Young Ko, the Founders Cup field includes 7 of the Top 10 ladies in the World Golf Rankings. Stars include Kelly Korda (No. 2 in the World), Lydia Ko (No. 3), Minjee Lee (No. 4), Atthaya Thitikul (No. 5), Nasa Hataoka (No. 6) and Lexi Thompson (No. 7). Past winners of the Founders Cup who will be teeing it up include Karrie Webb (2011/2014), Stacy Lewis (2013), Kim Sei Young (2016) and Anna Nordqvist (2017). You will also have the opportunity to see 5-time major champion and LPGA Hall of Famer, Laura Davies.

With a field comprised of the most talented lady golfers in the world, this year’s event promises superb golf and the perfect setting to enjoy it.

Atthaya Thitikul, Lydia Ko and Lexi Thompson

The History

The LPGA Founders Cup was established in 2011 to celebrate the history of ladies’ professional golf and the thirteen trail blazing women who founded the Tour in 1950. The inaugural event was the Tampa Women’s Open held at Palma Ceia Country Club in Tampa, FL, won by Polly Riley, a distinguished amateur player who won more than 100 tournaments in her career. Babe Zaharias, a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame and among the greatest athletes in the history of sport, won 8 of the 15 events that were held that first year (including all three major championships). Patty Berg would go on to record 60 wins and 15 major championships, while Louise Suggs won 61 times with 11 major championships.

In the 60’s and 70’s, renowned players including Mickey Wright (82 wins/13 Majors), Kathy Whitworth (88 wins/6 majors) and Betsy Rawls (55 wins/8 majors) continued to pave the way for the current LPGA stars. With grace, charm, and a beautiful swing, Nancy Lopez (48 wins/3 majors) carried the torch through the 80’s until Annika burst on the scene (72 wins/10 majors), raising the bar yet again while setting the stage for the magnificent players we see today.

Past Founders Cup champions include Karrie Webb (a two-time winner), Stacy Lewis, Anna Nordqvist and Inbee Park.

Babe Zaharias, Patty Berg and Louise Suggs

Upper Montclair Country Club

Founded in 1901 and located in Clifton, NJ, UMCC has hosted tournaments for the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, and The Champions Tour. The course was originally designed by A. W. Tillinghast, with major re-design and renovations by Robert Trent Jones, Sr. in the 1950’s. The PGA Tour came to Upper Montclair in the 60’s with The Thunderbird Classic, followed by the Dow Jones Classic in 1970—with Arnold Palmer and Gene Littler included among the champions. In the late 70’s and 80‘s, Upper Montclair hosted the LPGA Coca-Cola and Chrysler Plymouth Classics, with legendary names like Nancy Lopez and Pat Bradley etched on the championship trophies. From 1993 through 2002, UMCC hosted the Champions Tour with the Cadillac NFL Classic, and winners include Hall-of Famers Lee Trevino (twice) and Raymond Floyd. Most recently, the Sybase Classic was held at Upper Montclair (2007-2009), won twice by one of the most talented and popular players in LPGA Tour history—Lorena Ochoa.

Nancy Lopez, Pat Bradley and Lorena Ochoa

Upper Montclair Country Club offers 3 nine-hole courses (West, East and South), and the Founders Cup will be played on the West and South courses. From the Championship tees, the course rating is 73.5 with a Slope is 140.

What to Expect

In addition to great golf, the ladies on the LPGA Tour go out of their way to make you feel welcome. There are times at PGA Tour and Champions Tour events when it can feel as though you are intruding, an irritating distraction. No so at an LPGA Tour event, where you’ll find a warmth and friendliness that feels more like a family outing than a golf tournament. And when you watch the ladies produce masterful shots with more than just brute power, your game will benefit greatly as well.

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Golf Legends: Ranking the Top 30

The Masters: Honoring the Greats of the Game

As we enter Masters week at Augusta National, where the greats of the game are celebrated to a degree unmatched at any other major championship, it seems like a good time to examine the best who have ever teed it up, and see where they stand in relation to each other. Because Bobby Jones never competed as a professional, he is not included here—but feel free to place him among the top five, as you see fit. We have also included a group of top active PGA Tour players to see where they currently rate among the all-time greats, and consider their chances of joining golfs elite.

The Criteria

Because the major championships are the most demanding tests of golf with the deepest fields, the majors are given the most weight in our ratings, followed by tour wins, major runner-up, top 5 and top 10 finishes, as well as worldwide wins (wins on other tours, such as the European and Asian tours). Golf clubs and courses have evolved dramatically over the past century, so it is our view that the best way to evaluate a player is by his record against the other tour professionals at the time he was active—without consideration to scoring average, driving distance, etc.

The Ranking

Tiger and Jack

It is no surprise that Jack Nicklaus is at the top, followed closely by Tiger. Sam Snead rounds out the big three, with a wide margin between them and number four (Ben Hogan). Both Hogan and Snead’s ratings are negatively affected by World War II, when the majors (and all PGA events) were put on hold—while each was in his prime. Also, following the war, American golf dominated the international scene, with the U.S. winning six of the seven Ryder Cups played between 1947 and 1959 in overwhelming fashion, led by Hogan and Snead. With world-wide travel being a challenge, and neither feeling they needed to prove anything by competing at The Open (then known as The British Open), they pretty much ignored it—although they each made the trip once during that time (and both won—Snead by four shots in ’46 and Hogan by four in ’53). Snead played the British Open two more times later in his career, recording a T6 in 1962 at fifty years old. In addition, the ratings for Walter Hagan and Gene Sarazen are negatively affected because the Masters wasn’t founded until 1934, when Hagen was 42 years old and Sarazen was 34. Field depth and competition level also affect ratings and ranking, and this is addressed in the wrap-up.

The Chase: Tiger and Phil

If Tiger returns for the Masters this week, so too will his relentless pursuit of Jack. And should he somehow pull off another eye-popping win, as he did in 2019, Tiger will move within two of Jack’s record for major championship wins. With another major victory, a few more major Top 10’s and a couple of additional regular tour victories, Tiger will definitively move past Jack as the greatest of all time. Even if he doesn’t tee it up at the Masters this year, he is obviously getting close—and that means he may be seeing Jack in the rear-view mirror by as early as next year.

Phil, on the other hand, is conspicuously absent from the Masters this week. While it is not likely that Mickelson can reach Palmer and Player, he can most certainly add to his accomplishments (as demonstrated by Phil’s win at the PGA Championship last year), and put some distance between himself and those closest to him (Walter Hagan, Tom Watson, and Byron Nelson). And when he joins Tiger for the opening ceremony on the first tee at Augusta in the distant future, the current unpleasantness will undoubtedly be forgotten.

The Current Crop

The chance that anyone currently on tour can make a run at Jack and Tiger is extremely remote—making their accomplishments all the more amazing. Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson are the leaders among active players, followed by Adam Scott and Sergio Garcia.

Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson

At 32 years old, Rory still has a chance to move into the top ten, but he will need to pick up his pace. His last win at a major was eight years ago, and all four of his major victories came between 2011 and 2014. If his putter were to suddenly return from the dead, however, Rory would climb the list at lightning speed—with plenty of time to get near the top.

Dustin, at 37 years old, has enough time to break into the top twenty, but the group of talented youngsters behind him will make it a tough task.

Rory, Jordan and Justin

Adam Scott and Sergio Garcia

At 41 and 42 years old respectively, both Scott and Garcia appear to have enough left in the tank for a move into the top thirty. Both are fit and healthy, so if the youngsters’ edge over a bit, they should be able to take their seats.

Brooks Koepka and Justin Rose

Brooks Koepka is 31 years old, and he has ample time to muscle his way up the list. But while his record at the major championships is impressive, he will need to continue his performance at the majors while recording a significant number of additional regular tour wins along the way if he is to reach the top ten. The talent is there, but his motivation seems to be lacking when a major trophy is not on the line.

Justin Rose, at 41 years old, can still get to the top thirty–if his back can hold out for a few more years. Lately he has been getting off to fast starts, only to struggle on the back nine—an indication that the back is not so good. Justin still has that gorgeous golf swing with plenty of power, so if he can maintain his physical condition the top 30 is still within reach.

Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Jason Day

Jordan Spieth, at 28 years old, has plenty of time to make a move into the top twenty, or perhaps even the top ten. Jordan will have to put his foot down hard on the accelerator, however, to make that happen. Spieth won the last of his three majors back in 2017, although he showed signs of returning to form in 2021 with a runner-up at the Open Championship and a T3 at the Masters.

Justin Thomas, also 28 years old, and with a vast amount of talent, has plenty of time to make a move as well. With only one win, a Top 5 and three Top 10’s thus far in his career at the major championships, however, Justin will need to make his presence felt at the majors in a much bigger way as he heads into his thirties.

For Jason Day, at 34 years old, the clock has begun to tick. The talent and putting stroke appear to be intact, so if he can stay healthy there is still time for him to make a move.

Jon Rham, Bryson DeChambeau and Hideki Matsuyama

Jon Rham, Bryson DeChambeau and Hideki Matsuyama

At 27 years old, Jon Rham will be a force at the major championships for many years to come. Like Koepka, however, Rham will need to start packing on regular tour wins to move into the top thirty and beyond.

Bryson DeChambeau can certainly hit it, and at 28 years old a great many opportunities remain before him. He’s also a lot of fun to watch, so hopefully he can double down on his 2021 U.S. Open Championship and make a push to join the greats of the game.

With his win at the Masters in 2021, Hideki Matsuyama suddenly came back into focus as one of the top players on the PGA Tour. Having just turned 30 years old at the end of February, he’s got some time to beef up his record. Perhaps his Masters win will ignite a run?

Collin Morikawa

In only two full seasons on tour, Collin Morikawa has already notched two major championships and five regular tour wins. Of all the young guns currently on tour, Collin has the best chance to make a move on Jack and Tiger. If he can maintain his current pace for the next twenty-odd years, Collin will find himself among the top five players in golf history. But both Rory and Jordan were in similar positions when they were 24 years old, and neither were able to sustain it.

First there was Snead, then Jack, and now Tiger. Will Collin be the mega-star of the next generation? We’ll just have to watch as golf history continues to unfold before us.

The Wrap-Up

Nicklaus was up against Arnie, Gary Player, Tom Watson and Billy Casper. Tiger had Phil, Ernie Els, and a large cast of highly talented players to contend with. Sam Snead lost four years to the war at the height of his career (but conversely, he also chose to skip The Open throughout the ‘50s, which makes a statement about the level of competition at that time). There are other factors to consider as well, but hopefully our ratings and ranking can form a basis for debate. And we will continue to provide updates as Tiger makes his latest come-back, and the young stars seek to stake their claim among the legends of golf.

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